Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2017
As fuel taxes and carbon taxes raise the price of transportation in Canada, will it get too expensive to drive your car or truck? And if so, what are your choices? What influences those choices?
Even though climate change activists advocate walking and cycling everywhere to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health, and they claim that these are somehow equal to driving or using public transit, here are the actual statistics for Canada (in 2012):
- 82 % of people commuted to work by car,
- 12 % took public transit (buses and subways),
- 6% walked or cycled.
Vancouver Island and the lower mainland of British Columbia are about the only exceptions to the brutal rule of severe winter temperatures and plenty of snow in most Canadian cities. In most cities, cycling becomes dangerous and often impossible. Everything slows down, except subway traffic.
Commuters on average spend about 24 minutes going to work while people taking public transit spend 44 minutes. While many cyclists swear it is faster to cycle than sit in traffic, probably true in some cities, it still means cycling office workers face the awkward challenge of messy streets and extremes of weather, when they must arrive looking business-ready.
Though climate change advocates call for greatly increased public transit or high-speed rail within major centres, the density of urban development in Canada varies considerably from city to city, making these programs too expensive for the number of potential users and taxpayers.
Canada and Cars
It is no accident that Canadians use personal vehicles for most of their transportation needs. We live in a large country with plenty of space and we have longed enjoyed the benefits of low cost, plentiful energy supplies. For over a century, since the inception of the car, Canada’s basic infrastructure has been built around the availability of cars. That, in turn, has affected urban design.
One cannot assume away that infrastructure, or believe that increasing the cost of driving will suddenly make transit more available or cycling and walking more practical as alternatives. To try and force people away from cars and promote cycling, walking or public transit use, many large municipal governments have tried to create more “densified” cities. This often has had the tragic side effect of reducing the land available for new housing, raising housing costs, and forcing out the poor.
Nonetheless, there is an unrelenting demand by new homebuyers for residences in the suburbs often 40 km or more from city centres. If consumers are “allowed” to exercise their free choices, those movements to the suburbs will continue, because people here in Canada enjoy the benefits of more space (in their homes, in their yards, and in their neighbourhoods and play spaces).
We are not Europeans.
For inter-city transportation, consumers’ choices include cars, buses, trains, and aircraft (or, in rare cases, boats). Travel surveys show that:
- 96% of same-day trips are by car,
- 2% are by bus,
• the remainder are by air, rail or boat.
For over-night trips or longer:
- 78% are by car,
- 7% are by plane,
- 3% are by bus,
- 1% was by train.
Plane travel may be even more GHG-intensive than car travel. In Canada, train and bus service between cities is uneven and often with limited schedules. People rarely choose these over car travel – not to mention that both require another means of travel once at the destination. So, it is unlikely to draw many people out of cars unless the costs of car usage rise very sharply.
My Car – My Freedom – My Choice
Even when rates for parking and fuel rise, once a person has purchased a car and committed to paying the fixed costs of purchase, insurance, and maintenance, the incremental fuel costs are a small part of the total. Even if the costs of transit are very low and the costs of fuel rise sharply, the commuter is unlikely to change his or her habits because of cost considerations alone.
Further, once people live in the suburbs, their children often need transportation to various clubs or sports events around the city. With a private vehicle, parents can pick up groceries or home handyman supplies, or carry the hockey team’s equipment to and from the rink. These things are impossible by public transit.
In a democracy where freedom of choice is valued, Canadians should not have to justify their preference for cars. Personal choice is a right, and depriving people of that right has a cost. The burden of proof for trying to tax cars off the market (with associated loss in jobs in the auto sales, parts and maintenance sectors), should rest on the shoulders of those policy makers who try to institute a measure that will force Canadians out of their cars and onto mass transit or other forms of transportation.
But…but…but.. Climate Change!
Those who say that Canadians must get out of their cars to “save the planet” by reducing greenhouse gas emissions ignore the fact that cars and light duty trucks (i.e. SUVs) used for personal transportation in Canada account for just 11.5% of Canada’s emissions. Even major changes in our car use, including completely eliminating all personal vehicles, would have only a modest effect on national emissions. Canada itself constitutes only 1.6% of global emissions, and all the emissions growth is occurring elsewhere. Forcing people out of their cars in the name of the climate, in other words, is simply extremely expensive and pointless virtue signalling.
Interesting interactive graphic available here:
Some references drawn from: